See, the story employed some dirty words. Well, not some. One or two. One in particular, that many people still find offensive in public discourse, despite the fact that they attend movies every weekend where the word flows like water from the actors' lips.
You know the word I'm talking about.
There were probably a dozen or more instances of the word in a 1200 word story.
So, no kidding, the journal was unofficially banned from the campus. Copies disappeared from the campus center and apologetic statements were issued. I was neither sorry for the story, nor stridently proud. None of it affected me much. I remember chuckling at the headline in the campus paper: Prosch Prose Gets the Ax.
But I also remember, and took to heart, the words of an old professor who advised me after the fact: "I'm no prude," he said, "but if the thing I remember most about a story is the overabundance of one certain word, there's something wrong with the story."
Of course, that personal anecdote is just a sample of a bigger, ongoing discussion, one we're all still living with and hearing about: What's appropriate in fiction, what isn't, who gets to say so, and, ultimately...who cares?
Today, trigger warnings are a hot topic. On the face of it, the concept that a writer should preface his/her work with a caveat on what's written there--to somehow protect a potentially sensitive reader--is laughable. But there's some pretty serious talk about it as close as your nearest search engine.
So fiction writers are jumped on for offensive language. Or for depicting gratuitous sex and violence without warning. (Grapefruit sex and violence, my old great-aunt used to call it.)
These lines of thought brought to mind my own prejudice against stories where the dog dies. Or the horse.
In my opinion, such a move is almost always gratuitous. I don't want to read a story depicting excessive animal cruelty. Some of you might feel the same way (You out there, Mean Pete?). I think it's good for shock value only. There are better ways to advance a story.
Which, I suppose is the way some people feel about sex scenes or profane dialog.
I'm interested in hearing what y'all think.
After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com